Richard Mayer's Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Explained: An Instructional Designer's Perspective by@onyawoibi

Richard Mayer's Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Explained: An Instructional Designer's Perspective

Richard Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning- an interdisciplinary approach to designing instructions. It is often referred to as a cognitive theory of multimedia learning. This article will discuss: What is multimedia learning? How to improve retention in learning? How do we process information? What is Cognitive Load? The 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning
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Celine Aju

Script Writer @ Street School Education Tutor Experience Manager @ Tuteria


Giving instructions is as old as time, but with time society has adopted different mediums of communicating instruction to the intended audience. Some models of instructional design have proven more effective than others, one of the most effective mediums is Richar Mayer`s 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning- an interdisciplinary approach to designing instructions, it is often referred to as a cognitive theory of multimedia learning.


Table of Contents:

Richard Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning- an interdisciplinary approach to designing instructions. It is often referred to as a cognitive theory of multimedia learning.


What is multimedia learning?

How to improve retention in learning?

How do we process information?

What is Cognitive Load?

The 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning

Thank you Mr Mayer`s


What is Multimedia Learning?


Multimedia Learning refers to the use of pictures and words as the primary medium for learning. It is described as a type of computer-assisted training that employs two modalities at the same time.


The Multimedia principles assert that deeper learning occurs from words and pictures than from just words, but this does not refer to adding random pictures to the learning experience. The addition of pictures to learning in this principle is guided by the three assumptions of cognitive science. The assumptions explore possible ways humans process information.


  1. Active processes assumption

    Here it is assumed that humans are not passive information absorbers, instead, they engage in active cognitive processes such as identifying, organizing, selecting, and integrating bits of the knowledge they garner in learning situations. This speaks to the fact that students are not empty vessels waiting to be filled but individuals with the capacity to synthesize images and texts to create meaning that is stored in long term memory.

  2. Dual-channel assumption:

    Richard Mayer surmises that “humans possess separate channels for processing visual and auditory information, namely the visual-pictorial channel(which processes images seen through the eyes) and the auditory-verbal channel(which processes spoken word).

  3. Limited-capacity assumption

    Mayer suggests that humans have a specific limit on the amount of information they can process at any given time.


Benefits of Applying the Multimedia Principles

It takes into cognisance the limitation of working memory which enhances the nature and presentation of instruction to aid the learning experience. All types of cognitive overload are avoided


Cognitive Load Theory

Cognitive Load occurs when text and images are presented simultaneously, this occurs because the information presented exceeds the learner's cognitive processing capacity. Cognitive load theory indicates that the kind of information we encounter during learning influences the way the brain processes information.

There are three types of cognitive load which determine brain processing namely;Extraneous Cognitive Load is wasted cognitive effort on material that does not support learning goals; Intrinsic Cognitive Load refers to the complexity of the information to be processed; and Germane Cognitive Load refers to the work involved in learning from the instruction. This can occur when you give a child in a lower grade work from a higher grade.


Reducing Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning


Off-loading: Ensure there is a balance between visual and audio information. Segmenting: Include breaks between learning segments to allow for assimilation of information. Pre-training: Include relevant names and characteristics of topics and subjects. Weeding: Remove excess and uninteresting material. Signaling: Insert cues for how to process material to streamline the material that is processed. Aligning: Place text near corresponding graphics to reduce the need for visual scanning.Eliminating Redundancy: Avoid presenting identical written and spoken words. Synchronizing: Present audio and corresponding images concurrently.Individualizing : ensuring the learner has the skill to process mental representations.


12 Principles of Multimedia Learning

  1. The Coherence Principle

“Humans learn best when extraneous, distracting material is not included.” Simplicity is crucial in designing a learning experience, therefore instructors must refrain from using complex or and complicated information. Also they must refrain from putting all applicable information on the subject matter. The goal is to have only information that will be assessed,if not the learner will be distracted. In order to ensure this use simple visuals, avoid using background music and include only relevant images.


  1. The Signaling Principle

“Humans learn best when they are shown exactly what to pay attention to on the screen.” Too much information on the screen will lead to distracted learning which isnt really learning. To achieve this use fewer bits of information and add arrows for directions.


  1. The Redundancy Principle

“Humans learn best with narration and graphics, as opposed to narration, graphics and text.” If you have narration and graphics, adding text is redundant and can be overwhelming for the learner. In layman terms this principle means, if there is voiceover narration only using graphics on screen any other media added to the material would be redundant.


  1. The Spatial Contiguity Principle

“Humans learn best when relevant text and visuals are physically close together”. The goal here is to ensure all words and images are aligned, this enables learners to focus, reduces the cognitive effort expanded on trying to align the elements on the screen. To achieve this, ensure text and related graphics are in close proximity, have learners read text before playing any animated graphic and add pointers on the screen.


  1. The Temporal Contiguity Principle

“Humans learn best when corresponding words and visuals are presented together instead of inconsecutive order.” The mantra here is simultaneous not one after the other or Side by side not one after other.’ This lays emphasis on the learning material, reduces the learning time and improves the overall experience. You can achieve this by ensuring the audio and image occur at the same time.


  1. The Segmenting Principle

“Humans learn best when information is presented in segments, rather than in one long continuous stream.” Segmenting learning sessions enables learners to feel in control of their learning experience and keep track of learning progress. Using “next buttons” in online learning materials can achieve this very easily.


  1. The Pre-training Principle

“Humans learn more effectively if they already know some of the basics” Thus it is important for learners to already know some key terms, definitions and concepts before delving into the immersive learning experience. This can be practised using an introductory guide or cheat sheet as the pre-classes guide.


  1. The Modality Principle

“Humans learn best from visuals and spoken words than from visuals and printed words.” It is important to balance the ratio of texts and images to ensure the learner is not overwhelmed. To achieve this use use voiceovers in learning materials as opposed to on screen text.


  1. The Multimedia Principle

“Humans learn best from words and pictures than words alone.” This principle works best when relevant, memorable and intriguing images are added to the learning experience. It requires a balance of images and words to create an immersive learning experience.


  1. The Personalization Principle

“Humans learn best from a more informal, conversational voice than an overly formal voice.” This creates a comfortable atmosphere for learning which improves the learning experience. It is important to use simple language, use first-person and match the tone of the speaker to the learner demographic.


  1. The Voice Principle

“Humans learn best from a human voice, not a computer voice.” With the rise of Siri and Alexa it is easy to delegate the voicing to a computer application however, the trick here is to use a human voice not the voice of a robot or a computer voice.


  1. The Image Principle

“Humans do not necessarily learn better from a talking head video”, the logic applied here suggests that important information should be learnt using relevant visuals not a talking head. The trick here is to use relevant animations or images to reinforce the audio voiceover.

Thank you Richard Mayers!


The cognitive theory of multimedia learning assumes that the human mind is a dual-channel, limited-capacity active-processing system, and that presenters must design multimedia messages to account for all three types of cognitive load. Mayer takes a constructivist approach to learning, in which multimedia are seen as cognitive supports for knowledge building rather than information delivery methods. Essentially Mayers has taken into consideration the limits to human assimilation and provided parameters to ensure engaging and effective learning. Thank you Richard Mayers for providing these principles which are reshaping the creation of learning materials therefore shaping learning experiences.


More in Instructional Design

  1. Mayers Principle of Multimedia Learning
  2. Arcs Model: Motivation as a Tool in Education
  3. Activity-Centered Instructional Design Model: An Analysis of Action Mapping


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